Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Calgary Dinos' dominance of Canada West has become historic. In perhaps the best game of Saturday's conference finals (despite the 38-14 final score, this was close for most of the contest), the Dinos were able to pull away from the Regina Rams and claim their fifth-straight Hardy Cup as Canada West champions. Before this, the previous record was four straight championships, shared by Calgary (2008-11) and Saskatchewan (1934-1937). This was far from their best game of the season, but they still came up with a 24-point win against a top opponent, which says a lot about the dynasty Blake Nill has built. The question's now if they'll be able to take the next step.

Despite the way the Dinos have owned Canada West over the last five season, they've only won two national semifinals (Uteck and Mitchell Bowls against Saint Mary's in 2009 and 2010 respectively) and lost those Vanier Cups thanks to a remarkable 18-point comeback from Queen's that saw the Gaels win the 2009 game 33-31 and a 29-2 never-in-doubt thumping from Laval in 2010. Their two other national semifinals over that stretch were 59-10 and 41-10 losses to Laval in 2008 and 2011. Of course, there's more to it than just the dominance of the Rouge et Or, as age limits, the rise of junior football and even the NCAA's recruiting tendrils have also made life difficult for Canada West teams, but the moral of the story may be that while the Dinos have been great over that stretch, they perhaps haven't been quite great enough to win it all. (Four playoff losses are still a relatively small sample size, but it's noteworthy that the Dinos have lost three of them by 27 points or more, suggesting there's more going on here than just bad luck.)

Can these Dinos reverse the trend? Well, Saturday's results don't necessarily suggest so. The Dinos won by 24 in the end, but they made plenty of critical mistakes, including the three picks Eric Dzwilewski threw. Next week, they'll have to face the top-ranked McMaster Marauders, the only perfect CIS team this year and the defending Vanier Cup champions, and they'll have to do so on the road. McMaster was also arguably more impressive Saturday, despite only beating Guelph 30-13; that was an outcome that was never really in doubt, unlike the Calgary game, and only looked marginally close thanks to the Marauders taking their foot off the gas. If both teams play the way they did this week when McMaster hosts Calgary in next Saturday's Mitchell Bowl, that's likely going to produce a Marauders' victory and kill the Dinos' Vanier Cup hopes for another year.

However, the season-long results are more auspicious. It's notable that while the Marauders were 8-0 in the regular season and the Dinos were 7-1, Calgary was ahead in total yards per game (592.1 to 582.5), points per game (47.5 to 45.6), yards allowed per game (272.1 to 340.2) and points allowed per game (14.6 to 15.6). There's no real way to compare strength of schedule thanks to the lack of Canada West - OUA crossover games, but from this corner, while the OUA might have a slight edge in other conference contenders (Guelph, Queen's and Western versus Regina, Saskatchewan and Manitoba), Canada West's bottom teams (UBC in particular, but even Alberta to a degree) are more dangerous than say, Waterloo, York and Toronto. Regardless of your opinions on conference strength, though, the Dinos have a remarkable offence regardless of conference (even with Dzwilewski's three picks, Calgary put up 381 passing yards and 291 rushing yards Saturday) and a pretty solid defence (the Rams' own potentially-explosive offence only managed 335 net yards and got nowhere on the ground, picking up just 27 rushing yards on 13 attempts). It's going to take a more consistent effort with less mistakes than the one they turned in Saturday if the Dinos want to beat McMaster and go from "Canada West powerhouse" to "bona fide national contender," but they might just be capable of it. Either way, it should make for a compelling Mitchell Bowl.

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